“What regrets would you have if you died tomorrow?” my devotional guide asked me. I’m sure this reflection question was meant to spur healthy contemplation and helpful goal setting, but instead it caused a rising wave of panic inside of me. The empty lines beneath this writing prompt met my middle-aged eyes looking as blank as my life felt in that moment.
My restless mind’s reflection went something like this: It feels as if my life were wasting away before I’ve actually done anything of significance for God. Am I really making any sort of impact for eternity? I’m not regularly leading people to Christ. I’m not an influencer or a trend-setter. Most days I’m doing well to set the trend for regular meal times in our home or to “influence” my children to get their chores done. Perhaps I need to get busy and finish writing that book already. Or maybe I just need to be more consistent with my blogging and build that into some kind of meaningful ministry. And then there’s still so much we haven’t covered in our homeschool. I need to come up with a plan right now for reading every single book on our shelves.
On and on, my anti-regret to-do list began to grow. An innocent reflection question had dropped me on a hamster wheel of anxiety and exhaustion. As I moved into a time of prayer, I reached for the familiar and soothing words of the Lord’s Prayer, my mind much too dizzy and distracted to form one from my own heart. As I prayed for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, here and now, as it is in Heaven, it hit me — His kingdom looks nothing like my hamster wheel.
When Jesus described it, He compared it to a mustard seed, planted and growing into a tree big enough for birds to nest in. He said it’s like a pinch of yeast that eventually works its way through a whopping batch of dough. Those things surely don’t happen at the snap of your fingers. That seed isn’t going to be a tree overnight. Change and growth might actually be barely perceptible in the moment and take a long time to be realized or even noticed. Could there be an element of patient plodding in the kingdom of God too? I saw how a plan like that would make beautiful sense, because it requires something God takes great delight in — faith.
My perspective on what it means to be “fruitful” has been slowly changing in recent years. The story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree used to send me looking under every leaf of my life in a desperate search for any sign of productivity. Oh, no! I don’t see much fruit here. I need to produce some fruit! How can I be more fruitful? And in such a frame of mind, it’s even tempting to settle for gluing “fruit” onto the surface of my life, just to look and feel better. But the truth is, fruit isn’t produced from the outside in. For real fruit to grow, pollen has to penetrate. And this takes more than just being in close proximity. This requires an enfolding, an entering in, a deep and hidden communing. My role in fruit bearing is a cooperative, responsive one. I am not the gardener! My one task is to abide.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener . . . you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:1, 5 NIV
I don’t want the sticky, false fruit of an impressive outward image. Instead, I want the sap of Jesus flowing through every vessel of my being. After all, isn’t intimacy the only way to produce genuine fruit? It all boils down to love. My heart in order. My heart in Him! Let whatever fruit may come of it, come. But I will not waste my time lifting every leaf looking for it. I will lift my gaze instead to the Lover of my soul.
As Jesus once said to a woman named Martha, who was worried and bothered and anxious about many things, “Only one thing is necessary.” And like Martha’s sister Mary, I want to choose that one thing — to sit at the feet of Jesus and find my heart’s delight in Him. I have it on His authority that the fruit of such an intimacy will never be cause for regret. It will last forever.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:41-42 NIV